Music and Learning


“My child listens to music whilst working, surely they cannot learn like that?”

Music affects our feelings and energy levels.  Often unknowingly, we use music to create desired moods; to make us happy, to provoke thoughts, to dance, to feel more energetic, to bring back powerful memories, to help us relax and focus.  Music is a powerful tool for our personal expression and it helps “set the scene” for many important experiences.  Much research also supports the fact that music greatly affects and enhances our learning.

Some areas where music helps are:

  • Creating an Active Learning Experience:  Music activates students mentally, physically and emotionally.  It helps to create an environment of learning that enhances understanding.  
  • Focus and Attention:  Music can help concentration levels for certain learners.  Baroque music, such as those composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, where there are 50 to 80 beats per minute helps to maintain focus.
  • Memory and Retention:  Songs, chants, raps etc help students to memorise content.  This is done through rhyme, melody and rhythm.
  • Motivation:  Music in the background helps with motivating students to learn and continue learning.  
  • Creativity and Thinking:  Background music stimulates internal processing, that in turn facilitates creativity.  This encourages personal reflection.
  • Community:  Music provides a positive environment that encourages students to work together and in teams

Of course the type of music is important and vital.  Baroque music (Bach and Vivaldi) and Classical (Mozart and Beethoven) are recommended as is ‘soft’ music (soundtracks with no words).    Research from Stanford University has found that humans do better on learning and memory tests after listening to particular music by Mozart (called the Mozart Effect as coined by Dr. Alfred Tomatis in the 1990s).  Benjamin Gold, a researcher at McGill University looked at Reinforcement Learning (e.g. studying notes, revising for a test etc) and concluded that “most significantly, non-musicians tended to learn better when they enjoyed the background music, but those with more musical training learned better when the music was neutral.”  

More recent studies (by Dr. Emma Gray) have shown that for Sciences, Humanities and Languages, music by artists such as Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus (songs with 50-80 beats per minute) help process factual information and solve problems.  When studying Mathematics, classical music was found to be the best choice (60-70 beats per minute) and for students studying English, Drama or Art, it is recommended to listen to emotive rock and pop songs such as Firework by Katy Perry or I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) by The Rolling Stones.

As with many studies, a counter-argument does exist.  This has been presented by Nick Penham and Joanne Vizard, who conclude that, “listening to liked or disliked music was exactly the same, and both were worse than the quiet control condition.”  

Yasir Patel


Investing in the Mind

 “The public has learned that instant answer giving is the most important sign of an educated man”

-Neil Postman-

Nowadays, ‘answers’ are too easy to find.  How often have you seen somebody reach for their phone when a question is posed?  Instant answers, rather than thoughtful consideration or well thought-out, better questions, seem to be the new measure of success. But instant answers usually measure just two things: the ability to memorise or the access to technology.  Think Facebook posts, Tweets from Twitter, Whatsapp messages, Blogs etc – how many are carefully thought out and posted, tweeted or sent?

The reality (and we must acknowledge this) is that we all think we have the ‘answers’!  Usually these ‘answers’ are on our phones, tablets or computers via the internet.  However, how many people truly have the ability (or desire) to ask the right questions or analyse the answers they receive?  Separating fact from fiction has always been a vital skill.  Nowadays, there is another equally important skill – the ability to identify relevant information within these so-called facts.

Of course, it is not about the devices that we have.  Most people have access to technology, but the more we seem to invest in the latest and best technology, the less we seem to be investing in the most amazing gadget:  our minds.

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom”

-Isaac Asimov-

Critical thinking is the ability to ask effective questions and formulate original solutions.  It is self-directed, self-monitored and self-corrective.  It is not easy and requires self-discipline in order to allow one to question new information and continuously analyse the results.  A word of caution: this is not an optional skill in the 21st century!  We must all (and encourage our children to do so) ask the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, remembering that in most cases there are more than two faces to each coin!

Within education, children are finding traditional educational models less and less relevant to their lives and the ever-changing world around them.  Schools can do better, they must do better. Schools must make learning skills more important than memorisation skills.  Courses like Theory of Knowledge, Learning to Learn and the constructivist classroom (as proposed by many, including John Dewey) are one way to bring relevance to our students.  The curriculum also plays a big part as do families.  Let’s  support each other in this important aspect of our lives and continue investing in your childrens minds.

A serious problem right now is the gap between our skill and our wisdom. Today, deep reflection about our future circumstances is eclipsed by the rush to build faster, cheaper, smarter, more-efficient gadgets.  Society’s best brains are saturated with immediate issues that become ever more complex, rather than reflecting on why we are doing this and what the long-term consequences will be.

-James Martin, Oxford University-

The ability to learn, practice, and analyse is at the heart of critical thinking, which is the key to closing the wisdom gap.

A lot of innovation is needed to solve the serious problems we face in this world (global warming, economic crises, food and water shortages). Additionally, the very quick changes and developments in technology not only make it ever so important to learn newer skills, but also that we are continually assessing the results and impacts of new traits and initiatives. This ability to learn, practice, and analyse is at the heart of critical thinking, which many consider the key to closing the wisdom gap in our country.

Yasir Patel